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Double-Header Saturday At Pocono

Published: May 2, 2016 7:36 pm ET

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This Saturday, Kentucky Derby Day at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono will provide top action for three-year-old racehorses -- whether pacing, trotting, or running -- during a doubleheader card at the northeast Pennsylvania oval.

First post for the first card will be at 11:00 a.m.; after those ten races are completed, the thoroughbreds will take center stage for their Bluegrass classic via simulcasting; and immediately after the Derby is completed (approximately 7:00 p.m.), there will be a second card of 14 live races at The Downs.

Sticking to the Standardbred side, the Saturday highlights will come during the evening card, as The Downs hosts the inaugural edition of the $561,500 Pennsylvania Classic Final for the best Pennsylvania-sired three-year-old pacing colts and geldings, with their filly counterparts going for $313,800 in the first Miss Pennsylvania Final. The sophomores earned their way into the open-draw Finals through high finishes in elimination races this past Saturday, and there are no coupled entries in either event.

Trainer Ron Burke sent out both Pennsylvania Classic elimination winners, JK Will Power and Check Six, and that pair drew beside each other in posts three and four respectively. Both are sons of Somebeachsomewhere who ran their 2016 records to 2-for-2 in the eliminations: JK Will Power won in 1:51.1 for owners the 3 Brothers Stables, while Check Six edged his stablemate Big Top Hanover in 1:50.4 for Burke Racing Stable LLC, Weaver Bruscemi LLC, William Switala, and James Martin.

Something will have to give between these two fast colts in the Pennsylvania Classic; an early indication may come Tuesday morning, when Yannick Gingras, who guided both of them to victory, will have to pick between the two at scratch time.

Big Top Hanover, as mentioned before also a Burke trainee, drew post one Saturday; Manhattan Beach is the fourth member of the Burke barn to make the Classic Final, but he drew the outermost post nine. Trainer Chris Ryder qualified three horses for the Classic Final, but they also had poor luck at the draw: Western Dynasty, JJ Flynn, and Duke Of Delray will start from posts six, seven, and eight, respectively.

The Pennsylvania Classic is race 12 of the Saturday evening card; a race earlier, the top locally-sired fillies will have their turn in the spotlight in the Miss Pennsylvania Final. There were three eliminations for the filly final last Saturday, and the fastest winner was Darlinonthebeach, who won in 1:50.4 to remain unbeaten in two seasonal starts, and she drew post four for driver David Miller, trainer Nancy Johannson, and owner White Birch Farm.

Call Me Queen Be, like Darlinonthebeach a daughter of Somebeachsomewhere, will start just to that foe’s right in post five after winning her seasonal bow in 1:51.3 for driver Scott Zeron, trainer Ross Croghan, and the partnership of Let It Ride Stables Inc and Dana Parham. Not so fortunate at the pillshake was the other Miss Pennsylvania elim winner, the Well Said filly I Said Diamonds, who won her elim in 1:51 in her seasonal bow but Saturday must solve the difficult outermost post nine for driver Matt Kakaley, trainer Matias Ruiz, and owners Little Bapa LLC.

The Miss Pennsylvania Final will also be interesting to watch to see if two Jimmy Takter trainees can bounce back from thirds in their elims. Pure Country, undefeated in ten starts at two and voted national divisional champion, was caught in the stretch in her elim -- her seasonal debut. That fast filly will be looking to regain her winning ways from post six for driver Brett Miller. Ivy League, a daughter of former Takter champion mare See You At Peelers who also was third in her elim, drew the rail with Yannick Gingras taking over her sulky seat after last week's pilot David Miller picked Darlinonthebeach for this race.

Also on the outstanding Saturday night card will see a showdown of the top free-for-all pacers on a 'neutral site' in the race six $50,000 Van Rose Memorial Invitational, named after the former area harness racing writer. Pocono is a 'neutral site' because of the leading free-for-all duo have enjoyed success at separate racetracks. Rockeyed Optimist has as of late been unstoppable on the mile track at The Meadowlands, while Bit Of A Legend N won all five Levy Series prelims over the half-mile Yonkers oval and then came back to take the $609,000 Levy Final.

Rockeyed Optimist got an advantage at the post draw, landing post six for driver Tim Tetrick, trainer Steve Elliott, and the ownership combine of Anthony Perretti, Virginia Berkner, A And B Stable, and Joe Battaglia. The five-year-old Rocknroll Hanover gelding has six wins and two seconds in eight 2016 starts including a 1:48.2 seasonal best at Dover, and a 1:48 lifetime mark.

Bit Of A Legend N, a seven-year-old son of Bettors Delight, had already earned $650,000 racing in New Zealand before being brought to these shores for this campaign by owner Harry Von Knoblauch. The Kiwi import has started off his North American career in, well, legendary style, with two wins and two seconds before going on his six-race Levy tear which gave him the biggest bankroll in North American harness racing this year: $451,250. But between the quality of this field and the difficult post nine, this may be the toughest test yet for Bit Of A Legend N, who will be driven by Jordan Stratton for trainer Peter Tritton.

To show the overall quality of the Van Rose field, one could cite facts like five of the entrants are millionaires -- including double millionaire JK Endofanera, and that their average lifetime mark is 1:49.2, with ironically the possessor of the least-speedy mark being Bit Of A Legend N at 1:51h ... but remember that he has only raced ten times on this contintent, and only over the Yonkers half-miler; so it’ll be interesting to see how he “stretches his game out” over the five-eighths-mile Pocono oval. And the field clashes at Pocono in good form: of the 51 charted lines shown without qualifiers or scratches, the field boasts of 25 victories showing, despite the fact that several made one or more starts against each other in the Levy Series.

The field, from inside post position to out, is Take It Back Terry, P H Supercam, Hall Bro, Luck Be Withyou, JK Endofanera, Rockeyed Optimist, Cooperstown, Bushwacker, and Bit Of A Legend N.

But wait: there’s more! The first card also has a trio of stakes events, as the Pennsylvania All-Star Series for state-sired horses opens its 2016 stand at Pocono with three $30,000 divisions of the three-year-old trotting colt and gelding event, carded as the last three events on the ten-race curtain-raising card.

The final of the trio of contests looks the most interesting in terms of returning horses with accomplishments, as the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes divisional champion Lagerfeld makes his first 2016 start from post two for trainer Jimmy Takter and driver Yannick Gingras. Also in this heat is Make Or Miss, who deadheated for the win in the Valley Victory Final at The Meadowlands at the end of last season (post four, trainer Ron Burke, driver Joe Bongiorno), and Pennsylvania Stallion Series champ Mr Right (post six, trainer Leigh Raymer, driver George Napolitano Jr.); these two will make their first starts in 2016 as well in this contest.

(with files from PHHA/Pocono)

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